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Dive into the Flow of Life: Kyokushin practice through Musashi's "Book of Water"

Updated: Jun 29, 2023

Part 2 of 5 from Miyamoto Musashi's Gorin no sho adapted to Kyokushin Karate

The Book of Water, taken from Miyamoto Musashi's Gorin no Sho, is a veritable philosophy of life and can be considered a valuable guide for Kyokushin Karate practitioners. The book emphasises the importance of fluidity, adaptability and constant personal development, which are key principles of Kyokushin Karate.

The principle of adaptability

In Kyokushin Karate, adaptability is essential. Every opponent is unique, with his or her own strengths, weaknesses and fighting style. The Kyokushin practitioner must be able to adapt to each opponent, just as water takes the shape of any vessel into which it is poured.

Like the breath of a gentle wind dancing through the leaves, or the reflection of the moon in a tranquil lake, the lessons of the Gorin no Sho 'Book of Water' are subtle and profound. They invite us to immerse ourselves in the art of combat and embrace the very essence of our being. Just as water constantly adapts to its environment, we too, as Kyokushin Karate practitioners, must learn to adapt to the challenges we encounter.

The art of strategy and tactics applied to our art

An opponent with powerful kicks is like a storm on the high seas. Impetuous and unpredictable. It's crucial to stay calm, like water in a storm, and look for openings. Use your own strength against him. If his kicks are powerful, his balance can be compromised. Be like water that always finds its way, use this weakness to counter and unbalance.

An opponent with powerful punches is like a mountain torrent, fast and hard-hitting. To fight him, be like the current beneath the surface, calm but always moving. Use your own body to protect yourself, deflect his attacks and strike when he's most vulnerable. Like water seeping through the smallest crack, your attack must be precise and determined.

If your opponent prefers to fight at close quarters, be like a spring gushing up from the earth, surprising and unexpected. Use body contact to sense his movements, anticipate his attacks and move before he even strikes. In this close ballet, be the water that flows around the rock, elusive and unpredictable.

If your opponent is fighting at a distance, be like a river, wide and omnipresent. Stay calm, keep your distance, but be ready to attack. Like water that flows slowly but inexorably, your movement must be continuous, your attack or counter-attack inevitable.

Whatever the fight, always remember Musashi's words:
"Water is flexible, water is adaptable". In combat, as in life, always be on the move, always be ready to adapt. And, above all, be like water: fluid, relentless and inexhaustible. Water does not fear the force of the storm, it embraces it. Water does not fear the rock, it surrounds it. Water does not fear fire, it extinguishes it. Be like water, and you will overcome all obstacles. And never forget: the true aim of martial practice is not victory, but constant self-improvement.

Fluidity in practice

Water is also a symbol of fluidity, an essential characteristic of Kyokushin Karate practice. Kyokushin Karate movements must be fluid and natural. In kihon (basic techniques), each movement must flow into the next. In kata (forms), the movements must be executed in a single continuous flow. And in kumite (combat), the techniques must be executed with a fluidity that allows you to attack and defend without interruption.

Let's take the example of the Pinan Sono San kata. This kata comprises a series of movements that must be performed in a fluid and continuous manner, symbolizing the flow of water. A Kyokushin Karate practitioner must strive to incorporate this fluidity into his practice, in order to become more effective in his combat and in his general practice.

Personal development

In the Book of Water, Musashi also stresses the importance of personal development and constant improvement. In Kyokushin Karate, there is always something to learn or improve, whether it's a new technique, better physical condition, or a better understanding of the philosophy of Karate. It's a never-ending path of personal development, just as water continues to flow endlessly.

For example, when practicing kihon, a Kyokushin Karate practitioner can always work on improving his technique, increasing his speed, power or precision. Similarly, in kata, there are always nuances to discover and master. And in kumite, every fight is an opportunity to learn and improve.

The importance of mental clarity

The Book of Water stresses the importance of mental clarity in combat. Just as calm, clear water faithfully reflects what is above it, a clear mind enables you to perceive and understand your opponent's intentions, anticipate his movements and react accordingly.

In Kyokushin Karate, this mental clarity is cultivated through the practice of sitting or standing meditation, which helps to calm the mind and develop concentration. I prefer the standing practice derived from Zen Ritsu or Ikken, the tree technique. Practiced by many Kyokushin masters and knockdown champions, this mindfulness technique increases our effectiveness in combat (I'll be talking about it in an article shortly). In combat, a calm and concentrated mind can perceive openings in the opponent's defense, anticipate his attacks and react quickly and effectively.

Gan (in Japanese) or the importance of the gaze in our practice

In the Book of Water, Musashi talks about the importance of the gaze. He goes on to talk about the importance of the gaze in tactics, pointing out that you need to be able to distinguish everything around you without moving your eyeballs visibly, and to be able to observe your opponent without being distracted by the insignificant movements of his sword. This is a skill that he believes is necessary and one that takes a great deal of time to master.

In Kyokushin Karate, the art of looking is a fundamental element of combat. In his Book of Water, Miyamoto Musashi stresses the importance of developing both central and peripheral vision in order to anticipate and react to the opponent's movements. He compares this skill to that of 'eagle vision', which is capable of spotting a minute movement at a great distance.

Musashi insists that you must be able to distinguish everything that is happening around you without being distracted by insignificant movements. For example, in Kyokushin Karate combat, it is crucial to observe your opponent's position, breathing rate, muscle tension and eye movements, in order to anticipate his actions. At the same time, you must not allow yourself to be distracted by non-essential movements, such as a frown or a hand gesture.

Musashi also stresses the importance of observing what is near and what is far. This is an essential skill in Kyokushin Karate competitions, where you have to concentrate on your immediate opponent, while remaining aware of the position of the judges, the edge of the tatami, and the other competitors.

So how do you develop this 'eagle vision'? An exercise inspired by my own practice can help.

Exercise to develop peripheral vision

This exercise involves developing the ability to use peripheral vision while maintaining concentration on a fixed point.

1. Sit comfortably and stare at a point in front of you. Keep your gaze fixed on this point throughout the exercise.

2. Without moving your eyes, try to become aware of what is happening in your periphery. What do you see at the sides, top and bottom?

3. Continue to focus on your fixed point, but widen your field of vision to become aware of everything going on around you.

4. Repeat this exercise regularly, each time trying to widen your field of vision a little more.

Once you are comfortable with this exercise, try to integrate it into your Kyokushin Karate practice. During your kihon, kata and kumite, try to maintain your concentration while keeping a peripheral awareness of your surroundings.

There's no doubt that the road to developing this eagle-eye view is a long and demanding one, but it's well worth the effort. By honing this skill, you'll be better able to perceive, anticipate and react to your opponent's movements. You'll be more aware of your surroundings, more precise in your attacks and quicker in your defenses. You'll become a more accomplished, confident and resilient warrior.

Practicing the 'vision of the eagle' doesn't stop at the dojo. It can be applied in everyday life. Whether you're at the wheel of your car, shopping or even walking down the street, practice widening your field of vision. Not only can it help you avoid potential dangers, but it can also enable you to discover new things, details you never noticed before.

Musashi was right: to master your eyes is to master your mind. It means seeing beyond the obvious, perceiving the invisible, and anticipating the unexpected. It means being present, totally and intensely. It means living each moment with a sharpened awareness, a sharp mind and an open heart.

To practice Kyokushin Karate by following the teachings of the Book of Water is to embrace uncertainty, welcome change, and navigate the ebb and flow of life with grace and resilience. It's a demanding path, but it's also a deeply rewarding one. For it leads us to discover our true strength, to reveal our true potential, to realize our true nature.

So may the power of water guide you along the path of Kyokushin Karate. May your eyes be sharp as an eagle's, your mind clear as spring water, your heart strong and courageous. And, above all, may joy, peace and love always be with you, in every movement, in every breath, in every moment of your life.


Gaëtan Sauvé

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